Patchwork Poems

Feeling frustrated by this poetry business? Centos can really loosen up your creative machinary. A cento (latin for “patchwork) is a collage poem made up entirely (or almost entirely) of lines from other people’s poems. By rearranging or decontextualizing lines from other poems, your task is to create your own poem by stealing from other accomplished artists. As John Donne once said, “All other things to their destruction draw.” Check out the blog Centobingo, created by Breadloaf alum Matt Hart, dedicated to Centos. Or check out my (maddie’s) variation, which is composed entirely of chapter headings from a table of contents: what-difference-a-wing-makes

Exercise: Past & Present

From Tony:

100 Word Exercise

Think of a historical character and put him/her in a contemporary setting.

What would s/he think? How would s/he react?

100 Words Fiction Exercise: Story of a Word

This is Tony’s Prompt:

Look up the etymology of any word you like.  Write the story of that word.  100 words.

Fiction Exercise #1: 200-Word Sudden Fiction

Write a sudden fiction in exactly 200 words following these rules:

1.  A one-scene story that takes place on a dock.

2.  Characters:  a pilot and a runner, strangers to one another

3.  A second-person narrator

4.  Circumstance:  They’ve both lost something

Dialogue Exercise

-construct a piece using only dialogue
-make it creative non-fiction

“I think I should put you in bed, Sophie.”

“But Simone! You can’t go to sleep in the middle of a tea party, you just can’t. And also I think you forgot, but my name isn’t Sophie it’s Prince Fred and besides, you can’t leave the castle unless I let down the gate over the moat and the moat has water-dragons in it so I don’t think you should swim across it. You should probably just wait until I let down the gate—this is the moat here, all the way to the end of this hallway (I can stand in it because I feed the water-dragons so they know that if they eat me they won’t get any more food even if they get to eat me because they’ll get even more food if they don’t eat me) and this room is the castle and I’ll pretend I’m letting down the gate when I go like this.”

“Okay Soph—Prince Fred. I shan’t cross your moat lest I be eaten, but could you please let down your gate. It is two hours past your bedtime and I fear the king and queen may be back at any minute.”

“The king and queen, the king and queen! A ring and a bean, the king and the queen!”

“Prince Fred. Do you want to be in trouble with the king and queen?”

“I’m never in trouble because my mom and my dad like me too much so they are always taking my side.”

“Oh really.”

“Yes. Sometimes I even just pretend to be asleep when they come check on me and then when they leave I make a fort with my blankets and think about a lot of things.”

“You make a fort with your blankets?”

“Yes, I do, and sometimes I take my little flashlight that’s on my keychain and read and sometimes I just make shadow puppets but that’s sort of hard because I have to hold the keychain like this with one hand and then I can’t make eagles because I need both hands to make eagles and eagles are my favorite because you can pretend they’re flying when you go like this. See?”

“I see. So maybe we can go to your room and set up a fort so that you can make shadow puppets and I can hold the flashlight for you.”

“What a great idea! And then I can show you all my special blankets and the quilt that me and my mom are making and I get to pick out the squares of fabric and she sews them on. It’s really neat.”

“That does sound neat. Okay, you go brush your teeth while I put these teacups away, alright? Can you brush your teeth on your own?”

“Yes but maybe you should help me put the toothpaste on because sometimes I put too much and then my mouth gets really foamy and my dad tells me I look like a mad dog.”

“Okay. You get everything ready and change into your pajamas and I’ll be right there, sound good?”

(This is unfinished but I’m going to stop here…sorry I got a bit carried away. Please don’t feel obligated to write a piece this long. Good luck and have fun!)

100 Words or more: Smoke

During my last months in Helena, the smoke from the distantly burning forest fires covered the streets and the mountains in a gray veil, obscuring the valley and the hills. On some days, it blurred even the trees across the street, and you could feel it grating on your throat each time you breathed in; on worse days, it covered the sky, the only color in the vast grayness the blood red of the polluted sun, reduced to an ichorous sore hanging dead in the air. Sometimes, though, the sunlight was beautiful, when it split into crimsons and scarlets as it drifted towards the horizon. I can remember seeing our living room once coated in red at dusk, the couch and the coffee table and the piano pulsing in the warm and sinister light.

100 Words: Pitcher

“We want a pitcher not a belly-itcher!” Grubby fingers interlocked in the chain fence of the dugout. Half-empty yellow Gatorades on the concrete floor, Emily, on deck, balancing a bat on two fingers. “7’s up, it’s a up thing, 7’s up, she hits it every time…” Parents with newspapers and magazines in the stands, sweat on my teal uniform (not the pinstripes I’m hoping for, but close). “Hey hey whadaya say, hit the ball the other way!” Blood on our knees from sliding, Katie’s out on a fly. They wouldn’t let me play baseball, but they let me get pretty damn close.

Exercise: On Storms

Here are the rules:

1. Use a second-person narrator

2. Use 150 words

3. Use the following words: bones, glint, forge, salt

4. Title it “On Storms”

5. Make it creative nonfiction

6. Go…

stethoscopes (100 words exercise)

I love the feeling of a stethoscope pressed against my chest, breathing in, breathing out. When I was younger I wondered what the doctor could be listening for inside the hollows and nooks of my body. I’m not sure I dared to imagine. Even in a doctor’s office, I found it soothing: the gentle pressing and inhaling, exhaling and pressing again– covering my chest and then my back, my abdomen. Then the weight of the stethoscope being knocked under my knee-cap as I watched my leg pull itself awake. The weight eased around my body and the cold metal felt quiet.

Workshop #3 Exercise: A History of Glass


1. Memories associated with glass
2. Facts about glass
3. Feelings you have about glass
4. Questions having to do with glass.

In five minutes, write a piece (whatever form whatever genre) entitled “A History of Glass,”using one from each column.